Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection is the most commonly diagnosed sexually transmitted disease in the United States. It is associated with genital warts and cancer of the cervix, vagina, vulva, penis, and anus. Does HPV also play a role in Head and Neck cancer?
Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma is diagnosed in about half a million individuals worldwide each year. Risk factors include smoking, smokeless tobacco, and alcohol consumption. Research has shown that in a subgroup of HNSCCs (Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma), HPV plays a role. While other subtypes of head and neck cancers have been declining, the incidence of oropharynx cancer (cancer around the tonsils and the base of the tongue) have been increasing in the United States and Western Europe. There is accumulating research that this is due to Human papilloma virus (HPV).
It is well established that the transmission of genital HPV infections is associated with sexual contact, and its prevalence increases among individuals with multiple sexual partners. But now it is well recognized that infection with HPV by itself is associated with OPSCC (oropharyngeal squamous cell cancer) in cases with our without history of excessive exposure to the traditional risk factors for HNSCC (head and neck squamous cell carcinoma), that is alcohol and tobacco. Case-control studies have suggested that HPV-related head and neck cancers, particularly tonsillar and base of the tongue cancers (OPSCC), are associated with a high number of oral and vaginal sex partners.
So what can you do? Get tested annually and before getting involved with any new partner, use condoms to decrease the risk further, and talk to your physician about the Gardasil vaccination.
(AAFP, American Journal of Family Physicians, & uptodate.com)